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David Swensen, Architect of the Yale Model, Has Died

As Yale University’s long-time chief investment officer, Swensen revolutionized endowment investing.

David Swensen, the legendary investor who led Yale University’s endowment for over three decades, has died, the university’s president announced Thursday.

“I write with profound sadness to share the news that David Swensen, Yale’s chief investment officer, died yesterday evening after a long and courageous battle with cancer,” Yale president Peter Salovey said in a letter addressed to members of the school’s community.

Swensen, who earned his PhD in economics from Yale in 1980, worked for Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers before returning to Yale in 1985 to run the investments office. As the CIO, he led the endowment into alternative investments like private equity, real estate, and hedge funds, creating a new model for endowment investing.

“David’s ideas reverberated beyond Yale as he revolutionized the landscape of institutional investing,” Salovey wrote. “His approach, which has become known as the ‘Yale Model,’ is now the standard for many university and foundation endowments.” 

Outside of the investment office, Swensen taught classes at the university and regularly spoke to students at Yale’s residential colleges, including hosting famous beer and wine tasting events. On Monday, Swensen and his long-time No. 2 Dean Takahashi held the last class of the term for Investment Analysis, a seminar they taught for 35 years, according to the letter.

Former students interviewed by Institutional Investor in 2018 gushed about their old teacher, whose classes they remembered clearly even decades later. One former student, Kiele Neas, said she took two classes with Swensen, which then led to a summer internship at the investments office and Swensen serving as her senior thesis adviser. She now serves as a managing director at family office BF Global.

“His dedication to the institution and to mentoring people is really unparalleled,” she said in 2018. “I can’t think of another CIO who’s ever been as engaged on the campus, who’s taught classes and mentored students and advised on theses.”

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